Northern Bears depart for Esso Cup on Saturday

When the Prince Albert Northern Bears trek to Okotoks, Alberta in their quest for the Esso Cup on Saturday, they will have a large gathering to send them off. A number of Prince Albert minor hockey teams as well as anyone wanting to give the team one final send off of the season will gather outside of the Art Hauser Centre moments before the team bus takes off at 10 a.m.. It’s something head coach Steve Young thinks is great for the team.

“I think it will be really good for the girls,” Young said. “It’s going to be an exciting time for them. It’s been a long hockey season, we’re already near the end of May. I think something like that for them will be really good.”

The Bears haven’t played since March 9 when they were eliminated from the playoffs by the Saskatoon Stars. That obviously presents the challenge of game rust heading into the tournament, although the team has spent the better part of two months on the ice continuing to practice. They wrapped up their final practice session on Thursday night, and Young says there are a bit of mixed emotions when it comes to the team slowly wrapping their season up.

“The girls were maybe a little sad that this was their last practice, but at the same time, the days that they have been waiting for are finally coming up,” he explained. “They know that it’s just around the corner.”

Four members of the Bears have recently got back into the pace of a regular game. Sasha Malenfant, Bree Purcell, Kelsey Ledoux, and Jacquelyne Chief are over in Membertou, Nova Scotia competing in the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship. While the four are enjoying their time competing with Team Sask., it’s left a bit of a hole in Prince Albert’s depth chart at practice, and it leaves a lot of travelling for them when they join the team in Alberta. That’s something Young thinks has both its upsides and downsides.

“I think it’s a mixture of both. I think for us not playing games for so long, it’s going to be good for those girls that way. Obviously being that far away and the travel that they’re going to have to go through, they’re really going to have to do the right things. At the same time, you never want to say no to an opportunity, and that was an opportunity for them. It’s what we’ve been dealt, and that’s what we’ll work with.”

For the rest of the team, it might take the course of a game for them to get their legs back under them in a fast paced game. With league champions coming from all across Canada, the team knows it won’t be easy, but they are hoping that their efforts in practice will translate onto the ice.

“We’ve had a gameplan for the team three weeks before Easter and three weeks after,” Young explained. “That worked good and our practices were good. We worked on all types of things, and they all worked hard. They were all ready and prepared to work hard, and we’re hoping that carries us into the cup.

“We’re not looking to just dip our toe in and see what the water is like. We have to jump right in as a hockey club and go hard right away. It’s a short tournament, and we have to show our best right off the bat. One day at a time is a cliché, but I think that’s the important way to approach it, especially with the way that we’re coming into this tournament.”

The way the team is coming into the tournament, to Young’s point, presents a difficult challenge for the Bears. With teams like the Notre Dame Hounds, who recently won the Western Regional just a couple of weeks ago still in relatively game day form, Prince Albert will have to do their best to match the intensity.

“Our story is definitely going to be different,” Young said. “When you get that opportunity to go through your league and into another province and come out a winner, you’ve played a lot of hockey and played in a lot of different situations. These other teams have that, but I think at the same time we have to be a team that’s learned from our experiences all year, especially our short playoff run. We have to take the most positives into the tournament. We’ve been dealt this hand, and we have to make it work.”

The Bears kick off the Esso Cup in the first game of the tournament on Monday morning against the Ontario region champion Durham West Lightning.

@kyle_kosowan•sports@paherald.sk.ca

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